Music Thing: now the iPod records audio (properly)

Each week Tom Whitwell of Music Thing highlights the best of the new music gear that's coming out, as well as noteworthy vintage equipment:

It's been quite a week for mobile recording. The M-Audio Microtrack (a small, ugly, useful, $399) began shipping in numbers. I saw the Windows CE-based PD Audio system (weird, bulky-but-high quality, $750+) system for the first time, and Sony announced the PCM-D1 (awesome looking, crazy, $2,000).

PD Audio

But the really big news came on Wednesday. Hidden in the small print of the iPod 5 announcement was news that Apple have finally allowed the iPod to record audio properly. Previous models had a 8khz (telephone quality) cap on recording. iPod Linux proved that the machine was perfectly capable of recording in mono at up to 96khz (pro quality), and now we can all do 44.1khz (CD quality - but this might be compressed) stereo recording.

Of course, this has been possible for a while on other DAPs. In fact, high quality recording was a feature on early machines that is now becoming rarer. The ancient, huge, Creative Nomad 3 (looks like a CD player, costs $100 on eBay) has become a workhorse for concert bootleggers and field recordists, because it has digital ins and outs, and can record uncompressed wav files. The iRiver h120 (2004 era iPod clone, < $100 on eBay) even has an open source alternative firmware called Rockbox, which improves its recording capabilities.


So, why pay $3-500 for a Microtrack or an Edirol R-1? The recording quality might be higher - both can record at 24 bit, 96 khz, which the iPod almost certainly can?t manage. And the connections are much easier. With a $30 cable, you can plug professional quality XLR microphones into the Microtrack, and power them with phantom power ? the 48v current which mixing desks pass to pro microphones to power their internal preamps (the Microtrack actually puts out 30v, which sort of works).

Beachtek DXA-10

Until Belkin comes out with a shiny white replacement, the best way to do this on an iPod is with a Beachtek DXA-10 adaptor/phantom power supply/microphone preamp, which kicks two XLR sockets into one stereo minijack. Unfortunately, it costs $319. Still, if you can?t afford professional microphones, you still make good quality recordings for less: Giant Squid Labs sell minature stereo microphones with powered preamps for $80, which are perfect for bootlegging concerts field recording.